| British Paratroopers of the 16 Air Assault Brigade during their final training near Colchester before being deployed in the Gulf. (AP/PTI)
Baghdad/Istanbul Jan. 23 (Reuters): Washington looked increasingly isolated in its stance towards Iraq today as key powers lined up to oppose war.
China and Russia joined US allies France and Germany in rejecting military action.
As the US and Britain continued their troop build-up in the Gulf, West Asian nations also met today to discuss ways of averting a conflict. The stand taken by Paris, Beijing and Moscow means a majority of the five veto-wielding permanent members on the UN Security Council are against rushing into war. The other two members are the US and Britain.
However Washington has said it could launch military action without Security Council backing. In Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder vowed he and French President Jacques Chirac would do all they could to avert war. “War may never be considered unavoidable,” he said. Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov said there were no grounds to use force at the moment. “There is still political and diplomatic leeway to resolve the Iraq issue,” he said.
He agreed with France and Germany that UN inspectors in Iraq should be allowed to press on with their job of looking for evidence of weapons of mass destruction. A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said Beijing’s position was “extremely close to that of France”.
Washington accuses Iraq of hiding nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and has threatened to attack if Baghdad does not disarm in line with a UN resolution passed in November. Iraq denies possessing any banned weapons.
The UN inspectors, who are due to present a key report to the UN on Monday, have said they need several more months to complete their work. However, US President George W. Bush has warned time is running out for Iraq.
He is massing 150,000 troops in the region and has said he is ready to use them, with or without a Security Council resolution, if he considers Iraq has not disarmed.
Foreign ministers and diplomats from Iraq’s neighbours — Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria — were meeting along with regional heavyweight Egypt, in Istanbul to discuss a way out of the crisis.
“The countries...(at) the Istanbul meeting all have friendly relations with the US,” Iraqi ambassador Talip Abid Salih El Duleymi said. “We want them to use those relations to dissuade the United States from its intention to attack.”
Iraq urged Turkey to reject US requests for military support in any attack on Baghdad.
The UnS is looking to Turkey for use of its air bases and frontiers in the event of military action. Ankara opposes war but may be hard pressed to deny help to its closest Nato ally.
The US has asked Nato to consider several measures to provide indirect military assistance in case of an invasion.
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson on Thursday denied reports of a“bust-up” over providing support.
Diplomats said France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg had blocked a decision in Nato on whether to prepare supporting measures, notably defending Turkey’s southern flank. But Robertson said the only disagreement was over timing.
In Iraq, UN experts continued their hunt for banned weapons as a local newspaper warned that US troops faced a fate worse than the September 11 attacks if they attacked.
“The events of September 11 will be a picnic compared with what would happen to America if it commits aggression against Iraq,” the Babel paper of President Saddam Hussein’s son Uday said today.
It was referring to the suicide plane attacks in New York and Washington which killed 3,000 people in 2001. The UN inspectors visited at least five sites today, including food stores, a fibreglass production plant, a missile complex and a university.